Bill Hobbs, onetime Tennessee GOP spokesman and provocateur, dies at 54

Bill Hobbs, a onetime spokesman for the Tennessee Republican Party and income tax protester, has died. He was 54.

The cause was cancer, according to Jeff Hartline, the vice chairman of the Wilson County Republican Party.

Hobbs specialized in viral political attacks on then-presidential candidate Barack Obama (and his wife, Michelle) while he was communications director at the state Republican Party. Before that, Hobbs was a prominent figure in the protests surrounding Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s efforts to impose an income tax.

Hobbs, a former Tennessean reporter, was also forced out from his job as a spokesman for Belmont Unversity in 2006 after publishing a caricature of the prophet Mohammad on his person blog after the Islamic world condemned provocative cartoons published in a Danish newspaper.

Aa Jackson Baker observed in the Memphis Flyer in 2010:

Hobbs was widely regarded as a mentor and alter ego for Smith…. The two of them drew public rebukes from both Corker and the state’s other GOP senator, Lamar Alexander, on two notable occasions.

The first provocative act was a party press release circulated during the 2008 presidential campaign, referring to then candidate Barack Obama with pointed reference to his middle name of “Hussein,” suggesting that Obama had anti-Semitic support, and misidentifying a native costume worn by Obama during a visit to Kenya as “Muslim garb.”

The other circumstance was a YouTube video prepared by the Hobbs-Smith team that expressed skepticism about Michelle Obama’s pride in being an American.

The incidents drew rebukes from both Republican candidate John McCain and Barack Obama, who said: “Whoever is in charge of the Tennessee GOP needs to think long and hard about the kind of campaign they run. These folks should lay off my wife.”

When Smith left the chairmanship to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress, Hobbs was let go by her successor, Chris Devaney. Hobbs had since taken a less prominent role in politics, focusing on his photography work.

Hobbs left his job analyst with the the Tennessee Institute for Public Policy in 2001 after writing a newspaper column suggesting then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen had a stronger anti-income-tax position than Republican Van Hilleary (the GOP nominee had “left the door open, ever so slightly, to the possibility,” Hobbs wrote.) The group’s executive director, Michael Gilstrap, responded with a column arguing the opposite.


8 Responses to Bill Hobbs, onetime Tennessee GOP spokesman and provocateur, dies at 54

  • Stuart I. Anderson says:

    Maybe the “Hobbs-Smith team” were skeptical about the Obamas’ love for the United States because of the little things like Obama’s twenty year intensely close relationship with virulent anti-American preacher Jeremiah Wright and the fact that in February 2008 Michelle gave a speech that indicated that only now that her husband was doing well ‘. . .for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country. . . .”

    Naturally the Republican establishment personified by Alexander, Corker and McCain quickly headed for their permanent home in the tall grass on that one. As for me, one of the most satisfying votes I never cast was the time I did not vote for that odious John McCain after watching him conduct one of the most pathetic inept presidential campaigns ever. Can’t remember ever being so happy watching a Republican lose and in embarrassing fashion at that!

  • Donna Locke says:

    I was thinking about Bill last night. I felt something had happened. I know he fought hard to stay alive. I related to his struggle because I have had Stage 3 cancer. Bill was something of a pioneer with his political blogging. I noticed his blog after I moved back to Tennessee 16 years ago. The movers and shakers checked his blog every day, I guarantee you. I started checking it, too.

    Bill focused on tax issues especially but got into other issues as well. He didn’t post much on immigration himself and was not a hardliner on immigration control, as I was and am, but he asked me to guest-blog on immigration back in 2005 and 2006, I believe, and I did that for a while.

    Later Bill tried to do a good job in his position with the Tennessee Republican Party but went a little overboard on some things. I know he gave his all to any job.

    I’m grateful for his efforts to inform the public. Bill was also a gifted photographer.

    • Donna Locke says:

      I want to add that Bill was one of the best writers I’ve read. His political blog reflected his journalism background and writing skills, and this made his contribution a cut above. He wrote about lighter things as well–whatever struck his fancy. He was very smart and sharp and had a sly sense of humor mixed in with the seriousness with which he approached and accomplished his purpose.

  • Bob says:

    Just wondering if Democrat Communication Directors are ever called “Provocatuers”? I surprised the headline didn’t say. “Republicans Pounce!”. I mean the guy just died and you have to slam him? Tasteless.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Bob, as a subscriber to the Tennessee Journal I am used to the fact that the TNJ is published by liberals for liberals so I have simply grown to accept that fact and expect the usual bias that one confronts from most of the media, catholic and mainstream protestant religions, schools, large corporations, etc. Good for you for reminding the Erik Schelzig that we know where he is coming from in case he may be under the illusion that he is so cool and subtle that no one notices.

      • MarLE says:

        Stuart….do you object to online publications published by Right wingers for Right wingers with all the usual bias one finds when the owners are the editors and the column writers and sell the advertising and pocket the profits? Do you visit their websites and leave comments about their bias….actually you probably can’t b/c I have never seen negative comments about their obvious bias. At least Erik allows almost everyone pretty much unfettered opportunity to vent.

  • Bob Fischer says:

    You have to wonder what kind of insurance he had. And whether he would have had a chance with a real healthcare system in this state.

  • Bob says:

    The guy just died and you have to try to score political points. You guys are cold.

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